There are certain things that never go out of style. For the members of the Barrington Junior Women’s Club (BJWC), that would include caring, compassion, and generosity. For more than 20 years, the first Saturday in November has always meant that it was time for the BJWC’s annual Fall Fashion Show and Luncheon. This must-attend event typically draws more than 400 women and is highly anticipated for months ahead of time. The organization frequently raises well over $100,000, which they generously distribute to social service agencies throughout Barrington and the surrounding communities.
So when co-chairs Melissa Khamkhounnavong and Amber Wirkus started brainstorming about how they were going to have the event and achieve their fundraising goals amidst a global pandemic, they knew they had to start thinking outside of the box. Together with their committee, they were able to come up with a creative concept that may indeed rival an in-person event.
The theme for this year’s virtual program is “The Secret Garden” and will take place on November 7. “We’ve come up with an amazing slogan,” says Wirkus, “‘See How We Flourish.’”
“Just like a garden has to be nurtured and encourages growth, so does our community. The needs of our community don’t stop for a pandemic; if anything, they are amplified, which is why this year we are focusing on our local businesses.”
The BJWC was formed in 1936 and their mission is philanthropy and community service in Barrington and the surrounding communities. This year in particular, the committee is well aware that these are challenging times for everyone, so they’ve reached out to local businesses and asked them, what can we do for you?
Rather than coming together in one space with hundreds of women, they envision the event playing out across the community in little watch parties. “We encourage everyone to go in to our local shops and pick out an outfit and dress up for the event,” Khamkhounnavong said.
Instead of the usual gift bags, beautiful boxes filled with special items, including a personal-sized bottle of prosecco will be given out. They have hired local production team, Delack Media Group, and invested in a platform that will allow all of the attendees to view the fashion show as well as participate in a live auction via an app. Everyone will know ahead of time how to log on and they will also be streaming live on Facebook. In addition to the live auction, they will also have a special “key” event, where instead of a raffle ticket, participants can buy a skeleton-like key. The lucky winner of the raffle will be surprised at her home with a live camera crew, so everyone can enjoy the moment when the name is announced.
Indeed, it does all sound like the next best thing to being there. Khamkhounnavong and Wirkus have not missed a beat as the event will include the live portion with a fashion show and auction (via streaming platform), some surprise elements and a few traditional favorites. They’ve also gotten innovative and included some COVID-19-friendly, yet highly desirable, auction items, including having the outside of your home professionally decorated for Christmas or a family photo shoot.
Tickets will be available individually or as a “table” of ten. If attendees choose to go the latter route, they will receive flowers, catered food and wine delivered to their home.
By working with local vendors and restaurants, the BJWC is supporting local businesses while trying to raise money for the important causes they support.
And with the money they do raise, they will be able to provide support to charities from their well-established Grant Program serving human service needs for senior citizens, women and children. In addition, they award college scholarships based on merit and service for six Barrington High School seniors.
Both Khamkhounnavong and Wirkus have been involved with BJWC for about three years. “I grew up in Barrington,” Wirkus said. “And I’ve looked up to all of these women. I just wanted to do more.”
As an adoptive mom through foster care, Khamkhounnavong has been involved with the “Let It Be Us” organization, a foster care agency that is one of the BJWC’s grant recipients. While busy with her career and raising a young family, she still felt a strong desire “to help people in my community and make a difference.”
Although they were forced to change things up, both Khamkhounnavong and Wirkus are very excited for this year’s event and expect a strong turnout. “We want to encourage people who grew up here or have ties here to be engaged since they will be able to via the virtual platform,” Wirkus said. With all of the planning the whole committee is undertaking it is sure to be a true, as well as a virtual, success.
For more information, visit bjwc.org.